Confessions of a Wicked Monkey (Part I)

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Wickey, 8th Battalion mascot (First World War)

This story is based on the accounts of Private John Upritchard, MM (Regimental #507) of the 8th Battalion.  In 1914, at the start of the First World War, John joined the Canadian Expeditionary Force.  He survived the war, returned to Winnipeg and died in 1977 at Deer Lodge Hospital at 83. John wrote about Wickey in the hope of keeping her memory alive.

Part I of a two-part story.


This is a tale of a little monkey who made a big impression.  

The 8th Battalion first met Wickey in 1915 on the Messines Ridge in Belgium.  Wickey, a female Japanese macaque monkey, belonged to Lieutenant Cousteau, a French officer who had been with the French Legion in Tokyo.  He was on the Messines Ridge as an interpreter for the 1st Canadian Division, 2nd Canadian Brigade.  Lieutenant Cousteau was housed with officers from the 8th and 10th Battalions.  His batman (a soldier assigned to him as a personal servant) was from the 8th Battalion and looked after Wickey as one of his tasks. 

Messine Ridge, Belgium

Messine Ridge, Belgium

A defining moment for Wickey came about in February 1916 when the 8th Battalion was about to leave the Messines Ridge and Lieutenant Cousteau was being posted to an Imperial Division.  Before his departure, Lieutenant Cousteau suggested that the monkey could stay with either the 8th or 10th Battalion and that they could toss up for who would get her.  

You need to know that by now 8th and 10th Battalion soldiers alike had grown fond of the little monkey. 

Several 8th Battalion soldiers, including Private Upritchard, first heard of Lieutenant Cousteau’s proposal when they were on a fatigue (work) party loading up a General Service horse-drawn wagon to leave the Messines Ridge. They quickly asked the batman to see the monkey.  When he brought her out, Private Upritchard stuck her in a sand bag and took off with her.  Within half an hour the 8th Battalion had moved on and Wickey’s new life began with the boys of the 8th.

Private John Upritchard and Wickey

Private John Upritchard and Wickey

Wickey lived the soldier’s life.  Instead of special food, she ate what she could get. On her first official evening with the 8th, she had wine and grenadine with the boys, and seemed to enjoy it.  

The soldiers did not place her in a harness.  Instead, Wickey attached herself to Dan Maus.  For a long time, she would crawl into Dan’s blanket and go to Bill Brooks for food. In the course of time, she developed quite an appetite for her liquor, especially the wine and grenadine.  It was through the trips to the estaminet (a civilian-run small restaurant which typically served fried eggs, chips and watery beer) that the boys of the 8th really became acquainted with Wickey’s antics.

Now, the 10th Battalion didn’t give up on Wickey that easily. They made several attempts to get Wickey but someone, somehow always managed to save the day.  The old saying that possession was 90% of the law held true!  

Finally, it was taken for granted that Wickey belonged to the 8th.

Unnamed soldier and Private Upritchard with Wickey

Unnamed soldier and Private Upritchard with Wickey

Part II will be coming in two weeks… stay tuned!

Museum Renewal Project (surprises)

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When we walk into work, many of us know exactly how the day will go.  There’s a routine.  In fact, for some of us, it’s Groundhog Day. 

It isn’t like that at our museum.  We start out each day thinking that the Museum and Archives cannot possibly hand us another surprise and yet… 

Recently, it came to us in the form of a framed photo. 

"Well, how about that!” we thought after the photo was removed from the old frame.  

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The photo could have been in that frame for over 90 years.  It had probably sat on a mantle, cherished, and dusted regularly.  

We're grateful for these donations.  Part of the process of accessioning donations (recording them in our inventory) is cleaning them.  It's not cleaning in the traditional sense but, rather, removing contaminants (like dust with a soft bristle brush) and any corrosion.  While doing this cleaning, our Queen of Conservation removed the photo from the frame.  Instead of finding a regular cardboard or paper backing, the photo had been placed over a lithograph.  An unexpected treasure.

There are good days at the Museum when everything goes well (the Museum giveth) and then there are the other days (the Museum taketh away).  This was a good day.

The Story of Sergeant-Major Frederick Hall winning the Victoria Cross by Lieutenant W. Slater

William Slater (#493) was working as a tile setter when he enlisted as a private in 1914. Slater was promoted to corporal, then sergeant and in August 1915, was awarded a battlefield commission. In 1916, he returned to Canada to assist with the development of new overseas units and, in 1917, was seconded to the British Military Mission in the United States. 


Sergeant-Major Frederick Hall

Sergeant-Major Frederick Hall

The Story of Sergeant-Major Frederick Hall winning the Victoria Cross by Lieutenant W. Slater

It was expected that the Ypres salient would be the scene of great activity in the early spring (1915), and immediately we had taken over our trenches, we began to strengthen the front line which on our front was disconnected in many places…

 It was quite clear to everyone that something was brewing, and on the morning of the 24th we had just got back to Winnipeg Farm and were preparing to get under cover for the day when the air was filled with the cry of “Stand To”. We Stood To in some old trenches and were immediately enveloped in a cloud of gas which rolled towards us, while the bullets were hitting all around thick and fast. Being unprepared for gas warfare, this attack took a terrible toll, and right away we were all spitting and retching and vomiting and clawing at our mouths and throats in the throes of suffocation. It was at this moment that Col. Lipsett, the Battalion Commander, came out of Headquarters to our trench, waving his walking stick and shouting “Charge…” I was with Captain Bertram [and he] was one of the first to fall with a bullet in his foot…he immediately called, “Push on Sergeant, push on.” …

Making my way over to Sergeant-Major Hall, I told him what the Captain had said, and we laid our plans accordingly, but the fire from the machine guns and snipers and the coal boxes and shrapnel over head was so accurate that by the time we were half way down to the trees only 19 of us were left…

We discovered that our Battalion had held to its trenches in the face of the gas, and immediately continued on to their support. However, to do this we had to cross the open behind the front-line trench and in doing so met a very heavy enfilade fire from the left. 

 … Immediately on getting to the trenches we began to take charge of the situation, for the men in the trenches had suffered terribly, and it was up to us to “carry on.” Many were killed and wounded in this last dash to the trench and one of the wounded men called for assistance, so Private Rogerson went out to him, but was immediately wounded. On seeing this Lance Corporal Payne went to his assistance, but he was badly wounded, and then Sergeant- Major Fred Hall went out also, and was lifting the wounded man to bring him in when he fell shot through the temples.

It was for this act that I later recommended him for the Victoria Cross, which was granted.  

*William Slater returned to Winnipeg on May 4, 1916, and a long article was published in the Winnipeg Tribune on May 14, 1916, describing on how Sergeant-Major Hall won his Victoria Cross.


On 24th April 1915, in the neighbourhood of Ypres, when a wounded man who was lying some 15 yards from the trench called for help, Company Serjeant-Major Hall endeavoured to reach him in the face of a very heavy enfilade fire which was being poured in by the enemy. The first attempt failed, and a Non-commissioned Officer and private soldier who were attempting to give assistance were both wounded. Company Serjeant-Major Hall then made a second most gallant attempt and was in the act of lifting up the wounded man to bring him in when he fell mortally wounded in the head.
— London Gazette, no29202,23 June 1915

This is an excerpt from Holding Their Bit - Remembering the 8th Canadian Battalion (90th Winnipeg Rifles) 1914-1918 The Little Black Devils, a book edited by Ian Stewart and published by The Royal Winnipeg Rifles Museum & Archives in 2018.


Museum Renewal Project (our good luck)

Our good luck – although it really didn’t seem so at the time – came in the form of a mountain of inventory that we started sifting through during the summer of 2016.  

Over the years, the Museum had been accepting artefact donations that weren’t always relevant to the Regiment.  These items were interesting but, as a small, volunteer-run museum, the practical reality is that we have to focus resources on caring for and interpreting artefacts that are core to our story.  We’ve been looking at each artefact in our inventory and considering whether it fits with us, or whether another museum could offer it a better home.  

Our storage area was filled to capacity and then some.  For those who don’t know, when this project began, the Museum’s storage was located on the third floor of the Minto Armouries.  Years earlier, that space had been an apartment for the Armoury’s former caretakers.  As museum storage, however, it left much to be desired in terms of light and temperature control.

The storage space was a hot, airless place that summer.  It was dirty work clearing through decades of inventory.  Climbing up and down three flights of stairs to move items didn't help matters.  

The good news is that if we hadn’t been preoccupied with this work we would have started “cleaning up” the Archives.  While we would have gone in with the best of intentions, we would have nonetheless wreaked havoc on those archival records.  As we’ve grown to appreciate, archiving is a black art/science best left to experts or, at the very least, the supervision of experts.

A sad but fairly true account of how things would have gone (less the gorilla) is captured in the Library and Archives Canada document “A Guide to the Preservation of Archival Materials”. 

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As the inventory cleanup marched on, thankfully the Empress Dragon – Guardian of the Archives – joined our team.  Under her leadership, we now have a proper archival system… and good archive etiquette (no gorillas in our Archives!).  

The bottom line is that the archives are the heart and lungs of any museum.  It is what let's us tell the story of the Regiment.  We invite you to come visit our archives and read about our soldiers' fascinating stories and lives.